Whenever I dream of a Big Accomplishment, I recall Robin Williams’s description of winning an Oscar. First, on the night of the blessed event, the world says, “Hey! You won an Oscar!” But by the next day, a friend passing him on the street might only remark, “Hey, there. You won that Oscar.” A week later, the accomplishment is downgraded to a question: “Did you win the Oscar?” A month later, no one remembers who won what.
Any writer, no matter his experience level, no matter how many books he’s published, will tell you that, “You are only as good as your next book.” This can seem like a cruel, treadmill metric by which to live. What’s more, it is easy to lay the blame for this on publishers or the reading public, all those thankless souls who seem to forget so quickly what profit and pleasure we brought them from our toil.
The publishers and readers have nothing to do with this truism whatsoever. We, the writers, invented it, demanded it even. No matter how hard you worked on a book, no matter how honest you were in the telling, no matter how much you loved the final product, as soon as the book is done, you are done with it. You are done creating it, which means you are done learning from it, which means you are a different than the person who started writing it, which means you are meant to write something different now.
Of course you are only as good as your next book. Whether that next book sells as well or is applauded as loudly as the last book is not the point. You and your next book exist in the present moment, where all your accumulated goodness resides. To perceive your work any other way is an inadvertent suicidal dream – to believe that your life, which is only expansion, which is only the next thing, somehow ended before your did.
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